Why is your skin barrier so important?
Also known as the lipid barrier, the skin barrier is made up of lipids (fats, including ceramides) that cement the skin cells together. A healthy barrier keeps out irritants, pollution and dirt, while locking in vital skin-plumping hydration. It may sound like a dull job, but the barrier is the unsung hero of our skin, dictating everything from how fast we age to whether we look rosy and glowing or red and blotchy. “If you have a good barrier, then you have the basis of great skin,” says NY dermatologist and consulting dermatologist for Elizabeth Arden Dr Dendy Engelman. But when compromised – ceramides degrade far quicker than collagen does – what starts as a flaky patch or mild itchiness will, if left unchecked, “lead to a cascade of sensitivity, inflammation, breakouts and even acne,” says Dr Engelman. Leave it long-term, and you fast-forward the aging process.
How you’re breaking your skin barrier
Many of the things we actively do to get better skin can actually break down the barrier, doing more harm than good. “Over-cleansing, too much micro-needling, too much peeling – it’s terrible, as an intact barrier is absolutely the most important thing for good skin,” says Dr Erich Schulte, cosmetic surgeon and founder of QMS Medicosmetics. But it’s not a case of forgoing all this, it’s just about taking a more measured, gentle approach. Cleansing, not over-cleansing, is key. Balms, oils and micellar waters are all good, but squeaky-clean skin is a sign that you’ve also stripped away the protective oils along with the makeup and dirt. Too-hot water also damages the barrier, as do stress and insomnia, while exfoliating twice a week is absolutely enough to keep skin soft, polished and healthy. For anything more intensive (read: aggressive), Dr Engelman warns against “going rogue” and overusing at-home treatments, from micro-needling to strong retinols.
How to rebuild it
Using a richer – not greasier – cream will instantly give comfort. La Mer’s classic Crème de la Mer, Sisley’s beautiful Restorative Facial Cream and Elizabeth Arden’s famous Advanced Ceramide Capsules are all excellent for transforming skin that’s on a downward spiral of irritation and reaction. Face oils don’t give enough of a barrier effect on their own, but are great to layer under a more occlusive cream – try UMA Oils and Vintner’s Daughter’s rich Active Botanical Serum.
And don’t forget…
“There’s real science regarding the effect that resetting the gut flora has on our skin, and taking probiotics certainly helps,” says Dr Engelman. As does taking omega oils: “They can change the skin in a matter of weeks as they protect the cell membrane, and so help a compromised barrier,” explains facialist Sarah Chapman. “I’m a big fan of fish, krill or flaxseed oil; they are excellent for calming rashes, eczema and imbalances in the skin.”
The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown.